Why football embracing the poppy really does matter…

Date published: Tuesday 5th November 2019 9:59 - Ian Watson

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Football and the poppy
I started typing this on a laptop late yesterday afternoon and just lost it. Completely. Haven’t cried like that since my Mam died. Had no idea that I would, and my initial reaction was just to bin this mail. It (the mail) doesn’t make sense and I’ve spent the whole night debating whether or not to send it. Well, it’s now 0615 on Tuesday 5th November and I’m sitting here in my boxers with the breakfast news on and a dog looking at me with his ‘stop f*cking about and let’s go for our walk’ face on. And because I’m here to experience that I’m bloody well sending it. It reads as follows:

I opened Johnny N’s latest piece with some trepidation. The title didn’t help and I’m sorry to say I haven’t been quite as keen on some of his more recent articles as I used to be. That said, I pretty much agree with his general conclusion that the wearing of a poppy, regardless of colour, or not, must be a matter of personal choice. Some context before I make my main point. My late Dad was British Army. My brothers and I, for different reasons, followed suit. Between us, we managed to have at least one of us at Malaya, Suez, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Gulf Wars 1 & 2 plus subsequent tours of post-war Iraq and Afghanistan. It may interest some to note that my brothers and I ‘remember’ in very different ways. Personally, I don’t wear a poppy every year and, although I’ve attended the Cenotaph just once, that was as a Police Officer on duty and not as a private individual. I don’t go to local parades either.

Can I stress that what follows is my own view and I would no more pretend to speak for any other veterans than I would to speak for every other living Englishman. Firstly, f*ck the politicians for either starting, continuing or (a depressing constant throughout British wars/conflicts) the unwillingness to adequately support the military they’d just sent into harm’s way. Soldiers, (British ones in my experience anyway) are not robots, or baby killers, or fascists. If they were then they wouldn’t, almost universally, react as Johnny Nic’s Dad did when he came home. Dads are still coming home thinking like Johnny’s did now. He’s right I think when he says that people, media outlets and corporate bodies are seemingly under pressure to ‘comply’ and (I think) I get where he’s coming from when he wrote this:

“Along with all broadcasters, clubs are so fearful of the poppy fascists that they’ve embroidered the flower into the actual shirt to make sure the club and its employees is seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ at least as much, one suspects, in fear of the negative publicity for not doing so”.

My own personal reflex recoil at the word-combination of Poppy and Fascists aside I would suggest, with respect, that there is a flip side to that point also.

It is simply this. You can have England National games where, almost inevitably, some f*ckwits can’t stop booing the opposition’s anthem. You can have a league game where the home club is mourning the loss of someone very dear to them and some d*ckheads can’t keep their stupid traps shut. So much so that the ‘minute’s applause’ had to be created.

All that said, when you see football ground after football ground pretty much silent when the Last Post is played and when, like today, I was at my local Sainsbury’s and there was a huge queue of people outside the main entrance where the RBL had a stall selling Remembrance stuff and I was beaten to the item I wanted by a woman in a Burka

Ahh Shit. Can’t think properly as, and I have no idea why, I’ve just blubbed like a baby. F8Ck knows where that came from and I’ve lost my thread. The missus is upset. F8Ck it so am I.

Ok Time-Out done and half a roll of kitchen towel is on the floor but let’s crack on. What I’m trying to say is that whilst I not only understand JN’s general point but also broadly agree with it I would ask that he, in turn, tries to understand how some of us Veterans feel when, to us, complete strangers take the time and trouble to walk to a stone block on a given Sunday morning in November or buy a trinket to show their support for people they’ve never met. It’s not for me. I’m still f*cking typing. It’s the people that absolutely cannot read this and never will that they acknowledge. That they thank. Or the ones that are here now without limbs. See that guy? Then add on his Mam, Dad, Brothers, Sisters, Girlfriends, partners, children. Then say no Poppy.


…Just thought I’d throw this out there in relation to John Nicholson’s piece about footballers wearing the poppy.

This 2012 Telegraph article references a book by Stuart Laycock called All The Countries We’ve Ever Invaded And the Few We Never Got Round To.

Astonishingly enough (to me anyway) out of 200 countries recognised by the UK government as independent states only 22 have never experienced a British invasion – undoubtedly a legacy of the empire.

So, if you’re a footballer playing for a British club, unless you’re from (deep breath) Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan or Vatican City you’re being asked to wear a symbol commemorating a foreign invader of your native land.

Food for thought
Conor Malone, (never invaded anywhere personally). Donegal.


Bale’s blissful ignorance
John can’t believe Gareth doesn’t know who the PM is. Instead of being shocked, I think we should all be jealous. In the last year, I have cut off my television and stopped listening to the radio and reading any newspapers. I used to take pride in knowing about the state of the world and the affairs going on in it, but honestly who cares anymore? The world is wonderful and awful at the same time and nothing I do to educate myself is going to change that so just forget about knowing things and go try to get a little joy here and there. So John, I don’t publicly or actually care anymore and it’s absolute nirvana. No more caring what Trump did or what Boris said. No more pretending the government actually affects my life in any way, shape, or form. No more caring that you’ll inevitably prove how government affects me to some extent and others in every way. No more shouting down sexism or racism or any -ism and being fine with not being woke or whatever I’m supposed to be. And definitely no more praising veterans for doing horrible things in our names for freedom or liberty or other intangible nonsense. Just volunteering locally at a veterans home helping them deal with the awful cost of our greed that will never end whether I’m engaged or not, and not worrying one iota about what goes on outside the gates of my town. Ignorance really is bliss John. Give it a try when you’re done being a pretentious dweeb (northern sensibilities with southern politics) demanding we all care just a little more because you think your little social upheavals fifty years ago made one damn bit of difference. Brexit happened because it doesn’t matter. It’s just a stupid story nobody is reading. John, we agree on the problem, but the solution is to stop caring because the powerful won’t stay that way when nobody gives a toss what they are saying. They’ll just end up being consigned to the dustbin of history as another antiquated idea whose time has passed. Oh, and soccer, because this is a f&%$ing football site.
Niall, Denver


…Notwithstanding the merit of the rest of the article by Jonny Nicholson on James MacLean’s poppy stance (which personally I agree with), I have to cry foul at the tenuous bashing of Gareth Bale shoehorned into the intro and outro.

Jonny has judged him against a generalisation that no matter where you are, you can’t help but know who the Prime Minister is, and Gareth is living in a bubble of ignorance and isolation. There is a small problem with this, Gareth Bale lives in Spain. Not England. It’s easy to forget when there are such dominant, ubiquitous news topics as Brexit and the British political volatility, that outside of the UK people don’t necessarily care about these topics as much as news in their own country; so you won’t see it written everywhere in the street. Same way you wouldn’t see it on the news everyday in England if Italy is in political turmoil. Living abroad, you often need to seek the news out, it doesn’t seep osmotically into your brain.

Also, remember that Gareth Bale doesn’t understand Spanish. I believe that his failure to adapt to Spanish culture or even learn Spanish is the most disappointing aspect of his current situation (it’s ok to like Golf) but even so, in Spain the headlines would be in Spanish which would make them almost meaningless to Snr Bale.

As a high profile British celebrity it perhaps feels as though he should take more interest in the affairs of his home country but in his defence he doesn’t have to and plenty others don’t. Further, he isnt running for political office, writing articles and doesn’t hold himself out as an opinion leader, so it’s perhaps better he keeps opinions to himself rather than discuss something he doesn’t understand. He’s actually publicly making his ignorance clear.

The article is chiefly about defending the freedom of individual thought and plurakity of expression that so many died for, and it’s a great stance. However you also need to be aware that the same freedoms ought to be awarded to Gareth Bale if he chooses not to pay attention to certain topics. Dredging up the tired narrative about his personal activities seems like a cheap shot and spoils an otherwise sensible point. I’d much rather have read some more insight into the experiences of MacLean.
Matt, China


Xhaka’s non-apology
Lets address this in line:
After taking some time to reflect on what happened on Sunday afternoon, I would like to give you an explanation rather than just a quick response.

What, that’s most reasonable, maybe he saw the light!

The scenes that took place around my substitution have moved me deeply. I love this club and always give 100% on and off the pitch.

Oh, maybe not – Granit, the scenes being your employers (the fans that you abused) – these were the people who payed to watch the game – not the social media wa*ks who abused you. If you loved the club then why cause damage to your reputation as the club captain by thinking you could just put us all in the same bag – how dare you do that!

My feeling of not being understood by fans, and repeated abusive comments at matches and in social media over the last weeks and months have hurt me deeply.

We all think the SM stuff is disgusting, but you were in the stadium with fans in front of you, them being sick and tired of your under par, costing the team (the one you love so much!) performances and the regular brain farts you suffer when there is absolutely no need – what is wrong with you man! Your justifying your performances, really, oh FFS – this is a load of old bull not an apology of any sort and you are making it worse!

People have said things like “We will break your legs”, “Kill your wife” and “Wish that your daughter gets cancer”.

SM Abuse Xhaka – can you no longer tell the difference or are you actually saying we are all the same, really! How dare you say that – I as an Arsenal fan am really peeved now!

That has stirred me up and I reached boiling point when I felt the rejection in the stadium on Sunday.

You reacted to the jeers for Emery actually making a sensible sub for once, you got it wrong – then you made it worse (slowly trudging off when we needed a goal), worse again (throwing the armband at the feet of your team mate – really!), worse again (cupping the ear – arms waving like a baby having a tantrum, me me me) and then finally you don’t have the bottle to throw the shirt down – and i know you were going to – wow how can you see none of that) – spoilt brat mentality!

In this situation, I let myself be carried away and reacted in a way that disrespected the group of fans that support our club, our team and myself with positive energy. That has not been my intention and I’m sorry if that’s what people thought.

Positive energy – i hate hippies – mate, where’s all your positive energy when we need you to perform, or at least not be shit. And how can you think you should stay captain when you clearly have no control over your emotions positive or otherwise – cmon!

My wish is that we get back to a place of mutual respect, remembering why we fell in love with this game in the first place.

Are you taking the pi*s – you were manipulated by Emery, you let yourself get manipulated by aresholes on social media, you think if we don’t say how lovely you are then we are a bunch of c*nts – really – where have you been, Is this your first season in football? I had respect for you until you did the throwing toys out of pram stuff, and even that i could understand – but this drivel – you are a joke and i hope you never play for Arsenal again!

Let’s move forward positively together.

Yeah – you positively leaving to go somewhere else and we positively replacing you with an actual footballer who walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk – hurry up and go big boy!

Granit (I reckon he actually believes his name, that why he always has that odd superman twirl at the front of his hair when playing!)
Joe (if he and Emery don’t go by Christmas i will not to be sending them a Christmas card :-0)


Bayern and Arsenal fishing
It’s so cute that Arsenal fans imagine their post Emery appointment is somehow complicated by the Bayern job becoming vacant.

Sorry to break to you guys…the 2 clubs are just not fishing in the same pond. Bayern will make their selection from the revolving list of top tier Euro names, while Arsenal really should be phoning Tony Bloom and asking him who his second preference after Graham Potter would have been…no doubt still shrewder than grabbing the next Emery.
Aussie Red


Mane to rub it in
Fast forward to Sunday. The game is tied at 0-0, a cagey affair, with both sides preferring not to lose. Liverpool and City have been pressing and probing each other for 85 minutes but hesitant to make that final commitment in attack in fear that the opponent will surge up the pitch on the counter. Now, with a few minutes, City start to feel more urgency as it is them who need the 3 points more, and they start commiting more men forward. A corner is played into the Liverpool box and headed with power away by the imperious Lovren who has put in a performance to make a mockery of his detractors, with the ball falling at the feet of Salah at the edge of the box. He darts forward, plays a quick one two with Firmino and then rips a through ball to Mane who is surging up the pitch on the opposite side and free in acres of space with the City team caught up field. He is one on one with Ederson, and rounds him to slot the ball into an empty net. Hysteria, pandemonium at Anfield, the crowd is wild, Robbo has pulled a Gary Neville, turning to the City away fans and screaming while holding the Liverpool badge on his shirt. Meanwhile, Mane, with his usual shockingly calm demeanor when everyone else is losing their shit, jogs over to the dugout and slides ride across the pitch on his belly infront of the distraught Guardiola who pretends like that didn’t just stab him in the heart and turns around pretending to talk to Arteta.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, my honest assessment is that I know this is going to be an insanely tough game, and I believe we will sneak a 1-0 win late in the game, possibly a Mane winner, with him sliding across the pitch infront of Guardiola.
johnnyWicky, Toronto


Crime, punishment and Son
I was once on a jury. The accused was a driver who pulled their car out a crossroads where construction work was happening meaning they couldn´t see the entire road in both directions. They ended up clipping another car which went through a garden wall and striking an adult and a child they were looking after. Both survived but the child was injured quite badly. We were tasked with deciding if the driver had been “careless” or “dangerous” or indeed if he had done nothing wrong.

I remember the judge explaining to us jurors that we could not consider the severity of the child´s injury when considering the verdict. He was at pains to point that it was obviously an emotional situation and some would want to throw the book at the accused but it was not the point of the case. We were there to consider the action, not the results. Can´t help but feel it´s the same with Son and tackling in general in football. Son´s tackle had terrible consequences but that doesn´t change what he did therefore retroactively upgrading the punishment only fits if some other evidence emerges also.

Another interesting point this situation raises are the obviously wild and intended-to-hurt two footers we see where the tackled player can luckily walk away. Should players who commit violent lunges that miss their target be punished?
Alan, Cordoba.


In the bin
Tactical fouls have become a staple of the modern game , the majority would believe that Pep introduced it but every team now does it , see Milner last Sunday you could see that foul coming a mile off.

Now let’s say that the player fouled ( I can’t remember who it was ) is now injured and cannot continue like the unfortunate Gomez or Salah a couple of weeks ago. Surely then it would be correct to issue a red card to the player who deliberately fouled the now injured player.

If not you could have a situation that the fouled players team had already used their substitutes and therefore would be down to ten men whilst the offending team continues with eleven . This could result in teams tactically fouling more often in a deliberate ploy. Or is this already happening ?

This is where I believe a sin bin could be utilized. Son’s tackle itself was not in my opinion a red card offense but the resultant injury to Gomez would not have happened had he not made the tackle.

Therefore a yellow card is not sufficient punishment . 10 minutes off the pitch might be a better equalizing solution , or go further and keep the offending player off the pitch for the duration of the game if the other team have used all their subs.

I’m surprised this situation hasn’t happened before ( maybe some other mail boxers can help ) but it definitely will at some point.

Lastly wishing a speedy recovery to Gomez , it looked awful and I hope he comes back at least the same player if not better than before
DL , LFC ( Wasn’t red but Spurs shouldn’t appeal either ) Geneva


…A few people in yesterday’s mailbox were asking if anyone has ever been sent off for what Son did? Yes they have, Xhaka was sent off v Swansea in 2016 for a cynical foul on Mo Barrow on the halfway line. Find it on YouTube and you’ll hear the commentators shock that Jon Moss (always him with Arsenal) have a red rather than yellow. I hadn’t seen a player sent off for that type of foul until the Son one on Sunday, and that had different circumstances due to the injury.
Any player making a cynical take out tackle with zero attempt or chance to win the ball has to be totally responsible for the well being of the player they take out. Perhaps the horrific outcome of the Son tackle might make players think twice before they do these cynical fouls, it would certainly make the game better.
Rich, afc


VAR corner
Whilst I agree with the spirit of Miguel’s e-mail re: VAR improvements I feel having three challenges on either side and clock stoppages would be a nightmare and, rightly or wrongly, the TV broadcasters would be spitting feathers at the unpredictable end times of 90 minute football matches.

Obviously goal line technology is fine, but i’d also persist with looking at offsides for every goal but just get back to a basic, common sense definition of what is offside. Both a leg and part of the torso in front, otherwise it’s onside and benefit of the doubt in favour of the attacker?

Personally i’d give either manager one ‘challenge’ each per match (in ko matches or finals possibly an additional one each if it goes to extra time), where he informs the 4th official of his desire to do so (either because he has or his coaching staff have seen it, or his players indicate to him that he should), but this can only be acted upon once the ball is officially dead at the end of that phase of play, just as they have to do now before they view an incident. Then the referee HAS to take a second look himself on the pitchside screen. The challenge can only be used in the following instances:

a possible foul in the immediate phase of play leading up to where a goal has been scored

to challenge the award of a penalty kick

the award, or non-award of a red card

a case of mistaken identity.

In order to ensure that no flippant, desperate challenges are used the manager must be accurate in his description of the perceived offence he or his players have seen. If he genuinely ‘didn’t see it’, one, and only one, of his players (most likely the captain) is allowed to leave the pitch once play is dead and relate to him why they’ve told him to challenge. If nothing onscreen remotely resembles a perceived offence that the manager has claimed then he is automatically liable to receive some form of retrospective sanction, as a deterrent to making ‘not in the spirit of the game’ challenges.

Also, in order to maintain on field discipline and ensure the process is done quickly, once the 4th official has informed the referee of a challenge and he starts to leave the pitch toward the monitor, if any player attempts to get himself in front of the referee and speak to him in what the referee feels is a pre-emptive or intimidatory attempt to sway his mind pre-second look, then if the player is from the team making the challenge, the referee simply ends the challenge and gives that player a yellow card. If the player is from the other side and they haven’t used their one challenge yet then they lose that, and he gets a yellow card. If that team has already used their challenge then further, retrospective action is taken against that player.

These conditions will, clearly, still mean that referees will continue to make mistakes, but they’ve been doing that for decades and despite the lingering spectre of human error the most popular sport on the planet by some distance still persists. And at least this way, providing managers and players respect the spirit and necessary discipline of the game then the chance to correct clear and obvious errors during a match will remain.

It definitely needs a shake-up as this seeming, ‘don’t shaft your mate even if he’s wrong’ arrangement we appear to be working with at the moment is an absolute bloody shambles.



…Quick VAR mail. Sorry. To me the key issue is the on-field ref not having to view the pitch side monitor. I think if this was enforced it would obviously sort the accountability issue out but also stop my main gripe with VAR as a whole… that ref’s aren’t calling infringements they would have done previously safe in the knowledge, rightly or wrongly, that VAR will pick it up and sort it out. Compounding this arse about face logic is the fact that VAR is, as often as not, wanting to let the ‘decision’ of the on-field ref stand unless it’s a clear and obvious mistake (in theory). Meaning no bugger is making any kind of decision at all at times.
Mark Hamilton – Evertonian
PS: It was a yellow. Just hope it doesn’t cost us our Premier League meal ticket with our one truly classy centre mid out for the foreseeable. Get well soon Andre.


…VAR is a pile of crap at the moment. I think we all agree on that. But didn’t we all agree last year that the referees were a pile of crap anyway? We can harp on and on for days about captains issuing challenges, playing to the spirit of the law or trimming Firmino’s armpit hair, but really I think all we actually need is to be able to hear what the referees are saying. They already wear microphones, just broadcast it and give us some idea of the thought process and 75% of the complaints will disappear overnight.

Worst case scenario, the decisions aren’t any better but at least we know why those decisions were made. Best case scenario, Martin Atkinson gets overheard muttering “over my dead body” whenever Liverpool have an appeal and we all get a good laugh out of it.

Harry, THFC (Mike Dean decides to go permanently mic’d up and we finally gain access to his centre-of-the-universe stream of consciousness)


Winners and losers
The most damning evidence of just how far Manchester United have fallen?
Bournemouth didn’t even make it into ‘The Winners’ for beating them.
John in Doha



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